The brief story of Visionaries
When Geraldine Wheeler became minister of the Merthyr Uniting Church, New Farm, Brisbane, in 1997, she planned to do something to link visual artists with the congregation’s worship and witness in the community. New Farm is an area of inner-city Brisbane with several art galleries. She had met Rod Pattenden and visited Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney where Eastside Arts had become well established. The planning began, but first the church hall and courtyard required the completion of some major renovations which were already proposed.
In 1998 the planning became serious, both for the renovations and to gather a group of artists to explore their faith together with their art. Kevin Phillips, a photographer, and Jen Knights, a graphic artist, who were members of the church (and who would later marry) worked with Geraldine. Practising artists, Lindsay Farrell, David Binns and Chris Nield agreed to be advisors to the group and artists from several churches showed interest.
The first gathering of artists took place as the building work commenced and aims were established. The name “Visionaries” was selected and Jen Knights designed the logo. The first project was to paint a series of spare boards to place along the fence around the building site to brighten the ugly view. Some of Jen Knights designs were used, all employing creation themes. It was fun as the group painted the boards using old house paint. The first panel included the words “God created…” The others had no words. As a gift to the community, to be seen as people walked along Merthyr Road, it was taken too literally. All except the first were stolen (souvenired in Aussie fashion?) within a few days.
Once the building was completed (including hanging strips for paintings in the church and hall, and plinths for small sculptures) the first exhibition was held in May, 1999, with the theme “Soulscape”. 22 artists contributed and 2 recent art graduates, Cameron Stelzer and Alison Watson, were the curators. The opening night, May 21, included a programme of music and mime. The work exhibited included paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, slides and liturgical vestments. Indigenous artist, Jasmine Corowa’s series on the creation story (since published in Jasmine Corowa, artist and Norman Habel, trans. and ed. for the Rainbow Spirit Elders, The Rainbow Spirit in Creation: A Reading of Genesis I, Collegeville, Min: The Liturgical Press, 2000) was displayed in the church.
During the year a workshop led by Chris Nield, “Artmaking and Grace”, and an artists’ service of dedication were held and the first Visionaries dinner took place in the courtyard, with David Binns as the guest speaker, showing a range of ways that Jesus has been depicted by artists over the centuries.
Because of the year, 2000, the major exhibition, “Illuminations”, was held in December (Advent), to celebrate the second millennium of Christ’s birth. The opening event of the weekend, on 15 December, included the dedication of the “Reconciliation Wall” painted by indigenous artist, Maxine Healey (and her helpers), and the lighting of 2000 candles by those who gathered. Cameron Stelzer was the curator of the exhibition. The artists’ service, the dinner (with Lindsay Farrell as guest speaker) and a workshop were also held during the year. Geraldine Wheeler presented slide nights featuring churches and modern art in France (Assy and Vence), Fra Angelico in San Marco, Florence, 5th and 6th century mosaics in the ancient churches in Ravenna, and Chagall’s biblical paintings in Nice.
The exhibition in July, with the theme “Pivotal: Temptation and deliverance, despair and hope”, took place over a July weekend, culminating in the artists’ service. Geraldine Wheeler had taken early retirement to write a Ph.D. thesis about visual art and the Reformed Tradition, but the new minister, Gedeon Gakindi, continued to support the group which Geraldine still coordinated. From this time onwards, Geraldine has been organizer and curator of the Visionaries exhibitions, assisted by the participating artists on each occasion.
Cathedrals’ Week was held in the city churches of Brisbane in May, and 19 Visionaries artists contributed to two exhibitions held in Wesley House, beside the Uniting Church in Albert St. Brisbane. The exhibition themes were “The People of God” and “Voicing Creation’s Praise”. Works included paintings, prints, installations, glass pieces, photographs and wood sculptures. Gregg Nowell and the art department of Mueller College were responsible for the invitation and catalogue design. This was part of a wide programme of concerts and exhibitions across the city churches.
Visionaries members occasionally met for coffee and planning or for a restaurant meal. However, with key members overseas and otherwise occupied, the year’s programme was limited.
During the Lent/Holy Week/Easter seasons, a group of 9 Visionaries artists joined to hold the exhibition “Visions – Lent, Passion, Easter” in conjunction with the Australian Catholic University (ACU National) Banyo Campus Gallery. It included paintings in oils, water colours and mixed media, photography, fabric wall hangings, and prints. Geraldine Wheeler curated the exhibition with Lindsay Farrell, and the opening, March 31, took place just before Geraldine’s Ph.D. graduation ceremony with the university.
In August at the ACU National gallery at Banyo, a retrospective exhibition of the religious works of the late Frank Wesley, the Indian artist who had live in Nambour for many years, was held. Frank had supported the founding of Visionaries and had several works in the opening exhibition. Geraldine Wheeler was curator for this exhibition and sincere thanks go to Mrs Athalie Wesley and others for making so many paintings available.
In November, at Merthyr UCA, the week-end exhibition theme was a biblical theme of the artist’s own choosing, “Images and Stories inspired by Scripture”. On the Saturday, Geraldine Wheeler gave a talk about the work of the French artist, Arcabas, in the church of St. Hugues de Chartreuse, north of Grenoble, Lindsay Farrell conducted a workshop based on the Psalms and the artists’ service followed. It was an exhibition which led to a new series of developments in connection with the visual art department at the Australian Catholic University (ACU National) Banyo, headed by Lindsay Farrell, an artist/advisor to Visionaries.
In the first part of the year Visionaries had again held a Lenten exhibition of work at ACU National, Banyo and two Visionaries artists, Kerry Holland and Jennifer Andrews, followed with solo exhibitions also at the ACU gallery, Banyo. Kerry worked closely with the university choir, taking the theme of “Gloria” and Jennifer worked on the theme, used the previous November, “Creation begins with a blank page”.
“Painted Parables” was the theme of the July exhibition in the Merthyr Uniting Church hall, held on the weekend of 29-31st. Geraldine Wheeler spoke about and showed slides of the Isenheim Altarpiece, (now in Colmar, France), while Jennifer Andrews led the Saturday workshop, focusing on visual rhythm. The artist’s service was again held following the Saturday workshop.
The last weekend of September was the time chosen for the exhibition, “Season of Creation”. This linked with the adoption of this season in services of worship by a range of churches in Australia for the month of September. The work of 11 artists was on display, including some exhibiting work for the first time with Visionaries. No workshop was held but the artists’ service took place on the Saturday evening. Merthyr Uniting Church and the new ministry team continue to welcome Visionaries and their activities.
The theme selected for the annual exhibition was “water”. Jen Phillips (our graphic artist) again designed the invitation card as she had for all previous exhibitions except those of 2002. Jen’s designs have always been her contribution to the exhibition and have not featured any one work on show. Several of the works reflected the drought conditions of the time, while others expressed the importance and value of water. The exhibition was held firstly in the ACU National, Banyo, gallery space, in August/September, and then moved to St. Francis College Chapel, Milton. 15 artists participated. During this year the links with Merthyr UCA were discontinued.
Two major projects emerged during this year.
The first was the Stations of the Cross – A Contemporary Re-interpretation in St. John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane, during Lent. It was the brain child of Rita Ringma who had organised a similar exhibition for liturgical use and reflection in Vancouver, Canada. 14 artists did one work each. While a wide range of styles and media were used, the common size, 100cm square (except the last one on the resurrection theme), gave unity, together with a small set of more traditional works to accompany the larger works.
The second, open to all members, was in the ACU National Banyo gallery in September, with a wide range of work, paintings, prints, ceramics, collage, photographs and an artist’s book. The theme was “Rejoice”. There had been some rain, therefore let us rejoice!
Visionaries also recorded with sadness the death of one of its founding artist/advisors, Rev. David Binns, giving thanks to God for all that David had given and for the integrity of his artistic work.
The exhibition, Stations of the Cross – A Contemporary Re-interpretation, travelled to Townsville for display in the Townsville Central Uniting Church hall during Lent and into Easter. The plan is that these works remain in north Queensland for 2 years and travel to interested churches across the region. A booklet with the images, readings and prayers for liturgical use and personal reflection is also planned.
A second exhibition with the theme Crux is planned for September (at ACU Banyo gallery) and October (at Mueller College, Redcliffe).
During Lent and through to Easter members of Visionaries provided work on the theme “Psalms and Wisdom” in the newly established Vera Wade Gallery in the lower level of St. Andrews Uniting Church, Brisbane city. The exhibition at ACU, now in the new P. W. Sheehan Gallery, was designed to be of work which was a contemporary response to any of the religious works in the Queensland Art Gallery. The QAG collection, while not large, ranges from European paintings from early Renaissance times, the largest being a Tintoretto, “Cristo Risorgente”, to Russian icons, an altar piece, a Majolica plate, Dutch paintings from 17th -18th century, an Epstein “Visitation” sculpture of Mary to Ian Fairweather’s “Epiphany”. Dr. Lindsay Farrell led a group visit to see these works as preparation for artists to develop their responses. This exhibition then moved to Mueller College, Rothwell, to be shown in the new auditorium foyer space.
The Lenten exhibition in the Vera Wade Gallery consisted of the Contemporary Stations of the Cross series which had by then been returned from Townsville. The October exhibition at ACU, moving then to Mueller College, contained a wide range of work, including ceramics, on the theme “Signs and Symbols: the Christian Imagination”. A new development for the group was an invitation from the Brookfield Centre for Christian Spirituality to contribute an exhibition of works with an Advent theme, to be held in the old Queenslander house which is now a conference and retreat centre, having once been part of the Franciscan Monastery.
The artists of Visionaries provided a Lenten exhibition for the Vera Wade Gallery, “Lent to Easter: from the wilderness to the cross and beyond”, one at ACU on the theme “The Prophetic Imagination” and an Advent exhibition at Brookfield, “Advent Journey: waiting for Christmas”. Retreat days were held using images from the Advent series as suggestions for reflection and prayer in conjunction with the biblical passages they interpret visually, to assist people who visited the centre in their preparation for Christmas.
A new development has been the formation of regional groups so that members can meet together for discussion and inspiration without having to travel long distances.
Three exhibitions were held: Lent to Easter in the Vera Wade Gallery,
St Andrews’ Uniting Church; a September one at the Australian Catholic University, Peter W. Sheehan Gallery, with the theme “Gifts of Grace: Creation and Redemption” and the Advent one at the Brookfield Centre for Christian Spirituality, again providing opportunity to visitors for a time of reflection and prayer.
Again there were three exhibition. The Lent to Easter one in the Vera Wade Gallery with the theme “All in God’s Good Time”, the September one at ACU with the theme “Stories and Parables” and the Advent one, this time however in the Vera Wade Gallery, as a “pop-up” exhibition with the theme “Christmas is coming”, starting with a party gathering during which artists brought and hung their work.
In January some members met with Dr. Angela McCarthy, co-ordinator of the Mandorla Art Awards in W.A., to learn of the theme for the 2016 awards, “Resurrection”. Dr. McCarthy was visiting Brisbane for the Australian Academy of Liturgy conference.
The Lent to Easter exhibition was held in the Vera Wade Gallery, with the dedication held after the 9.30 am service on Sunday 22nd February. The ACU exhibition took the theme “Places for Prayer” and the Advent exhibition at Brookfield the theme of “For God so loved the world”. Jennifer Andrews, the principal of Brizart gave the opening address.
In December a group of members gathered at the Queensland Art Gallery for coffee and then future planning.
Following the discussions at the meeting, the website was updated with Susan Pietsch as manager, and Dianne Minnaar set up a Facebook site to improve communication amongst members.
An exhibition for Lent to Easter with works based upon the events as recorded in Luke’s Gospel was held in the Vera Wade Gallery. The September exhibition at ACU took the theme of “The Journey” and the Advent exhibition at the Vera Wade Gallery took the theme of “Journey to Christmas”.
In May, Virginia Hasker organised an art auction at Brookfield with works donated by some of the artists of Visionaries and others to raise money for a refugee programme in northern Iraq organised by the Anglican Church.
The Montville Uniting Church on the Sunshine Coast, Blackall Range, a popular tourist area, has started to open the church daily as a place for reflection and prayer, with art works on the walls, as a “reflection gallery”. This has been the initiative of Rev, Ron Potter, a retired minister and artist. Four members of Visionaries have placed series of paintings or photographs within the church for this purpose this year.
The Lent to Easter exhibition at the Vera Wade Gallery took the theme of reflection and prayer, the theme for the preaching of Rev. Bruce Johnson all through Lent. Rev. Dr. Geraldine Wheeler preached twice during the time, making reference to some of the art work as it reflected the biblical passages and prayer.
The exhibition with the theme “The Table” was held at ACU in July and August, coinciding with the university open day.
The Advent exhibition at Brookfield is to have suitably themed work with an Australian setting or symbols. This will also relate to much of the work by one of the original advisors, the late Rev. David Binns, whose “Saints from the Suburbs” series gave a Brisbane setting to his re-picturing of the biblical story.